Prairie Debut Tour 2014
Concert #1 at Ravna House in Snow Lake, Manitoba
Feb 23 - 26, 2014
photos by Guy Few
Day 1 – February 23, 2014 - travel to Thompson, ManitobaOur 2014 Prairie Debut tour started with a 5872 km “run-out” to the mining town of Snow Lake, Manitoba.
At first, we blanched at little at the idea of taking four days to do a single concert but quickly agreed for the thought of visiting a far northern community drew us in.
On Sunday, February 23, I had just welcomed bassoon virtuoso Ole Kristian Dahl to my house where he would be hosting a day of lessons for the bassoonists of Toronto. That is another story entirely, and I left my house in the hands of my extended bassoon family (Megan Morris, head bassoon wrangler), packed my truck with luggage, drove repairman’s shop in Brampton to deliver my student Jayyne Kao and her mother (picking up the repaired Schreiber that had been smashed earlier in the month by a swarm of students… also another story) before heading the Toronto’s Pearson Airport.
Both Guy and I arrived early at the Toronto airport for our late afternoon flight… ever since 2009 when we missed our first flight of a tour because of an overturned sand truck on the Gardiner Expressway at 5 a.m., we arrive at airports hours ahead of schedule.
When we got onto our AC plane, the stewardess instantly adopted us as kindred spirits, asking what we were doing, where we were going and why. She listened with genuine interest and then told us she was a photographer and had just released a book called Behind the Whip: dominatrix portraits and words. Guy showed her the corno da caccia (had to reciprocate somehow!!). We were delighted with her energy.
We landed in Winnipeg, then had dinner at one of our favourite spots (Stella’s on departure level of Winnipeg airport). The latte-making man and the security guard with the great glasses loved my fringed, complicated cut-out jacket. Then we boarded our next plane, taking the short flight in a nimble 30 passenger Calm Air birdy-shaped jet to Thompson. We read Tina Fey’s Bossypants over each other's shoulders and probably laughed too loudly (well, one of us) for airport regulations.
The walks across the tarmacs reminded us that we were in the real north.
Our big black Ford Explorer was running and waiting for us at the tiny Thompson airport, seats heated, fans blasting, country rock station murmuring.
We began to follow directions to get out of the airport then realized that there was only one way out of the airport. We stopped looking for street names and drove to our hotel. I made a couple of reeds, then had a shower to scrub off the black dye that was covering me from my latest Magpie four-foot fringed jacket (my clothes have an agenda of their own) and went to bed.
Day 2 - February 24, 2014 - Travel to Snow Lake, Manitoba
Up early, made another reed, then headed to the fluorescently-kit breakfast cell, hoping for a northern highway breakfast, and finding a toaster and an unmanned station of weary, sweaty mystery products in lidded steam trays, and opted to hit the highway after Guy did a phone interview for WLU’s Cord about our Juno nom.
Highway clear, sun blazing, no cars at all, sometimes a logging truck or gas tanker, hundreds of miles of Dr Seuss bobble-headed spruce trees and graceful poplars. We stopped at My’s Place in Wabowden to have the excellent trucker breakfast that I wanted and continued on Highway 39 then 332 to Snow Lake.
We stopped at Wekusko Lodge to get our key to the rustic cabin perched on the edge of the rushing Grass River, arctic cold water plunging around a curve and looking like a postcard of some wintery snow palace-type place too perfectly beautiful to actually exist.
We drove into Snow Lake and found Ravna House, a whimsically painted blue house with a gated courtyard in a roadside development of prairie-style boomtown bungalows… we went in through the meticulously shoveled walk, knocked on the yellow door marked “Entrée des Artistes”.
Greeted by our host, David Hart and the oddly welcoming barking of corgi-cross, cream-coloured Lady Bella we entered a loft-style room that was set up for the concert with chairs and pianos in place. Art graced the room and the snowy forest was visible through the draped windows.
David took us on a tour of the artistic house, and and offered Guy a coffee, but then we decided we should go for lunch since it was already 1:30 and we had a youth concert at 3:30 and we hadn’t played since the previous day. I was beginning to be fretful so Guy became the perfect tour person, happily agreeing to everything (coffee, lime drinks, non-alcoholic wine, deep crust pizza, chocolate, more chocolate --- this was before the first show)
David also co-runs Angilina’s Pizza, and took us there to have us make our own pizzas. I was weakly muttering that I avoid bread products, not because I don’t like them, but because I get too fat to get into my corseted gowns, but stifled myself after awhile because it just seemed churlish in the face of David’s astounding generosity.
He handed each of us the perfectly sized pieces of dough…. a grapefruit-sized lump for Guy and an orange-sized lump for me (thin crust). He quickly instructed us on how to knead the dough, then he ran it through a press, and showed us how to do the final shaping. Then we added tomato sauce and chose toppings (Quebec cheeses, ground meat, chopped pepper, and much more) and David trimmed our crusts and loaded the pans into the oven.
We sat down to eat after about 10 minutes… thinking ahead, David also fried chicken and heated a lasagna for dinner before the evening concert.
By then, I had lost all reserve and gobbled my pizza with real delight.
David cleaned up and gathered our provisions and drove us home… a mult-tasking dynamo who never stopped moving once during our visit, surrounding us with beauty and good food at all times… heaven.
We got back to the house at 2:30 and changed into our kid concert clothes (psychedelic coloured pants, long purple silk shirt and my lace-up black boots for me, casual black with dress hoodie and pointed, patent dress shoes for Guy) and had time to test a couple of things on the concert grand Yamaha gleaming on the side of the room. The room sounded resonant and excellent… David warned us that would change a bit when the room was full of people, that the sound would dampen a bit, but we found that it stayed lively even when crammed to capacity as it was for both concerts.
Young people began arriving after 3:30… first Elissa Bogdan (our host from Wekusko Lodge) and her two-year old and an in-arms baby girl. Then waves of snow-suited children, from toddlers to teens, including a corp of Junior Rangers of Canada with their coaches. Grandmothers and parents were there too. David welcomed all and told them to keep their boots on as he had prepared the floor with elegant smooth carpets to absorb snow. He said that in the past, he had required people to remove boots, but it put too much of a damper on proceedings and in the end, found it better for everyone to let them just walk in. Logistically easier to keep boots on too.
Guy walked to the door to greet everyone and welcome the kids individually. I stayed back by the piano as the artic air flowed in and I wanted to protect my bassoon a bit from the temperature shifts.
Then the big Junior Rangers arrived, fresh from a three-day backwoods trip that had them learning to be self-sufficient in the wilderness. Everyone packed in and sat… the two year old girl ecstatic, longing to lunge toward the keyboards, skittering around the piccolo trumpet perched on the floor in its stand… One small girl, seated in fron row with pink snow suit half peeled off, looked up and asked if we had started yet… another girl sat beside her in a beautiful blue, strap-shouldered evening dress with black, ostrich feather fringe on hem… she was a little unhappy about having to keep her pink snowboots on as they did not match the elegant dress, but she was not about to cause a scene and sat in the front row. David waited until the very last child was in place and we started.
We opened up the floor for questions and the questions were surprising and interesting. After watching Guy flipping between instruments so quickly, one girl wanted to know if I play other instruments. I said that I played three different kinds of bassoon (baroque, classical and modern) and make reeds for all of them and spend so much time on this that I haven’t learned to play another instrument, I have wooden flute that I want to learn. And I take at least an hour per day to make reeds. Another child wanted to know when Guy and I played our first concert together as a duo (that would have been the concert that we did at Jan Narveson’s place, or maybe the first real concert was the Abbey Bach Festival?)… I’ve got all of our programmes in a box and can figure this out. Another asked how many concerts we’ve done, and one of the Ranger leaders (Randy) asked if we had a kind of music that we preferred.
JRC Patrol, Snow Lake
Back Row: Kash Melnick - Parker Peddle - Brendan Smith - Wanda Laval Huff
Front Row: Wesley Snow -GF - NMJ - Evan Galiz - Logan St. Pierre
And before we played our last piece, we had a draw for a prize of our After Hours recital CD. We had all the children write their names on a paper and a young girl with amazing streaks of magenta red in her hair drew the name of Tekoa, the elegant five year old in the strapped blue dress with the ostrich fringe!
Everyone left and David began finalizing the set up for the evening concert. He already had the teacups on the table, samovars were in place (two of them) and he went into the garage and started the charcoal that would be put under the samovars. He had many kinds of elegant tea, subtle, fragrant.
I then waddled upstairs to finish my make-up and get hoisted into my concert gown, which tonight consisted of my Jessica Biffi green taffeta custom corset and superhero feathered skirt with faux leather pants and Fluvog laceup black boots and a Magpie sequined vest. Guy had to work for over ten minutes to find a way to both lace the corset accurately AND allow me to breathe… I was definitely packing ballast!
The concert hour came and we moved carefully through the full room to the stage area and introduced ourselves, then launched into the Concerto #5 in A Major — the room was crammed with people but still felt resonant somehow. They were very close yet they also sat very still! This is the same program that we will play during all 15 concerts of this tour, yet it will have a different feel in every town.
We mix our stories with the music and try to behave, not ramble, and to stick to our plan, but sometimes it is just essential to adapt to the environment and customize the story. Our first story is Royal Connection and usually focuses on the regal past of the trumpet and Guy’s many command performances, including one for the Queen, but today he chose to speak of King David, which is the nickname given to the host of Ravna House, David Hart, by some of his supporters.
Then we played Vivaldi Concerto in e minor, RV 484 and I love playing this with Guy. He has customized the reduction so that it plays like an opera, rather than the usual meek pianist struggling to stay out of the way, and it is very fun to interact with him. Because of the set up of the house stage, the 9 foot Yamaha concert grand is against the wall, and Guy had his back to the audience which gave me the unique perspective of seeing his face during the concert. Amazingly interesting to see the faces of the audience turning from me to Guy as we passed lines to one another… they followed not only the music but our mutual energy. Audiences always do this, but never have I seen it so immediately.
Then we played two Paganini sonatas (orig. violin & guitar) with bassoon and corno da caccia, followed by Bach’s Ich Steh’ mit einem fuss im grabe and ending with Weber’s Andante and Rondo.
The audience stood us during intermission and David began serving tea. People entered their names in the CD draw, and after intermission, we drew a name. At first, we couldn’t quite read the writing, then called out the name of Lester. A handsome man jumped up, full of glee at winning, dark eyes shining. Later, after the concert, I had time to talk to him, and saw that he was missing much of his thumb and index finger of his right hand. Ever direct, I asked him if he were a builder, as my Dad was a builder and I was very used to seeing edited digits on northern men. He smiled and said no! and pointed proudly to the embroidered word “miner” on the arm of his leather jacket. Lester and his twin sister were the first babies born in Snow Lake and he has been a gold miner for over 30 years. Movie star good looks and a deep joy in his work impressed me as you can probably tell.
After intermission, we started with the dynamic Sonatine by Alexandre Tansman, the piece that always makes me wish I had practised my scales 49 hours per day for the previous year.
We then moved into our Life, Love and the Unknown set, which usually involves Piazzola’s Oblivion, Glenn Buhr’s man will only grieve if he believes the sun stands still and Simeone’s Trumpet in the Night. In my haste to send the programme, I made a “cut-and’paste” error and somehow Flight of the Bumblebee had worked itself into the only serious part of our programme, so we found a way to work it into the existential reality of our human journey, or something like that.
The final story of the concert involves an airport accident with a pair of Guy’s designer jeans (you will have to come to the concert to hear about this!) and we end with our beloved St-Saens Sonate. The beautiful warm audience rose immediately to their feet, so we decided to play the encore without pretending to first leave the stage… I saw people cover their eyes and look through their fingers as we played the Fast Dance by Shostakovitch and Guy does the rapid changes from trumpet to piano without hurting himself or the instruments.
We then joined the audience for refreshments. After a while, Guy and David Hart, our tireless host, played Beethoven duos and a four-hand reduction of the Fifth Symphony! At the end, Lady Bella (David’s beloved sentient-being-on-four-legs a.k.a. dog) was brought back from the sitter and she was ecstatic to be home, greeting everyone, then joining the group of friends sitting at the tea table under the chandelier where she listened to her master (a.k.. loyal liege) from this position.
I sprung myself free from my concert corset and got into my long silk shirt and boots, toque and fleece. Guy changed to his quilted jacket and sweats; people smiled, saying that we looked northern now.
We tore ourselves away and drove back to our riverside lodge in the forest. The light was on and the cabin was toasty. I made reeds and Guy sat with me for awhile before we both pitched into the bunk beds and slept deeply, the silence cushioned with the near roar of Grass River.
Day 3 - February 25, 2014 - travel to Winnipeg
Up with the bright sun on the snow topped trees… I finished another reed and we packed up and returned to David’s for an astounding breakfast. We had a hearty breakfast and slipped pieces of cheddar to Lady Bella who graciously received them from her blanket (a.k.a chaise longue) in front of the window. Yep, we are spoiled for real life now.
David asked us to sign his guest book and, over Guy’s protests, I filled four pages with comments and pictures… then David had us sign a poster for each attendee of the two concerts, including the children! Of course we were glad to do this, and David signed a poster for us.
For the record, this was our first house concert yet it felt as significant as any main stage event. The alertness and considerateness of both audiences (youth and evening) was of the highest level, and the care and professionalism of our host was uplifting and inspiring.
Then we left, getting gas, and I drove a bit too fast in order to arrive in time for our flight in Thompson. We stopped again for gas and our usual celebratory bags of cheeses. Living life to the fullest as always.
Flew to Winnipeg, spent the night in the 4 Points Sheraton, a short yet howling-wind, thoughts-of -perishing -on-the-tundra kind of walk.
Day 4 - February 26, 2014 - travel to Toronto
and up at 5 a.m. to fly to Toronto. Had breakfast at Stella’s and saw an incredible parade of people, including a beautiful Inuk mother in a full beaded parka with her lovely baby, and a real cowboy, complete with guitar (be still my heart) and many more. A short flight to Toronto (around 2 hours), landing early in the windy morning, and home. Of course I managed to lose my only sensible coat in Pearson airport on the wrong side of security, so now have to layer my impractical leather coats, but a small price to pay for a great experience.
For the record, I love touring with Guy Few. The world opens up and we get to play music. There is nothing better and Ravna House, Snow Lake was one of the highlights of our touring life together.
The next concert of this tour is on March 8 in Lacombe, Alberta.
Grass River at Wekusko Lodge
photo by Guy Few
(photos of Guy are thanks to my overburdened, elderly iPhone)